Credit: Editions Berghahn
Credit: Editions Berghahn
Anthropologist Joost Beuving offers new insights into entrepreneurial behavior in his recently published book, “Theorizing Entrepreneurship for The Future”. This behavior shows striking similarities around the world, according to Beuving’s long-term studies and fieldwork in Greece, West Africa and the United States, among other countries. “In reality, entrepreneurial success is often more about a variety of circumstances over which entrepreneurs have very little control, than about rational anticipation and thoughtful planning,” he says.
The idea that the Free market always leads to more prosperity does not correspond to the practical reality of financial crises and failing companies. The 2008 financial crisis raised serious questions about this widely held notion. Since then, several scientific studies have been published on the causes of this crisis and on a healthier economy.
But to truly understand how corporate crises and scandals arise, we need to look beyond the economic view of entrepreneurship, according to Joost Beuving. In his book “Theorizing Entrepreneurship for the Future: Stories from Global Frontiers”, Beuving adds an ethnographic contribution to what is often a purely economic debate.
The anthropologist used insights from his field studies of the past 20 years. For example, he researched used car dealers in West Africa, fish exporters around Lake Victoria in East Africa, and owners of fish farms in Greece. For this book, he also investigated the behavior of investment bankers in financial America.
In the 250+ page book, Beuving analyzes how entrepreneurs perceive future. “Entrepreneurial behavior is really about ‘future work’: everything entrepreneurs do to get a grip on the future, which of course is always uncertain. Consider, for example, how they talk about the future, their habits for dealing with uncertainty and their social practices, such as the collaborations they pursue or the conflicts that arise in the course of conducting business.”
The different cases treated by the researcher in his book have striking similarities. According to Beuving, an ideal image of what a entrepreneur It permeates all groups of entrepreneurs: a homo economicusan opportunistic individual who acts by personal interest and rationally weighs costs and benefits in search of the greatest possible profit. “This ideal assumes a kind of omniscience: a knowable future as the basis for your decisions in the present,” says Beuving. “Many entrepreneurs outwardly act as if they know exactly what their actions will bring them. In the meantime, they do ‘future work’, because they don’t really know what that future holds. insecurity, but they rarely show it.”
The cases reveal that in all of these countries, entrepreneurs display a façade; they act with more confidence than they feel. “While West African car dealerships are driven by profit, most dealerships actually live a meager existence,” the researcher explains. “They draw their motivation mainly from the dream of getting a big unexpected hit – essentially a gambler mentality. Also important is that bankers invariably paint a rosy picture of the future, even when the numbers contradict it.”
According to Beuving, the ideal image of homo economicus has been eagerly adopted by the news media and has thus become deeply entrenched in our society. This book is actually a call to go beyond that facade and instead look at what entrepreneurs actually do and the stories they tell to each other and to themselves. “Thus appears the real and realistic story of entrepreneurship, which is after all often a matter of trial and error. In this story, entrepreneurial success often has more to do with a variety of circumstances on which entrepreneurs have very little control, only with rational anticipation and well thought out planning.”
Theorizing entrepreneurship for the future. www.berghahnbooks.com/title/BeuvingTheorizing